Fun and Games: Night of the Demons

(Fun and Gore, really)

Horror movies, for all their excess and transgression, are every bit as rulebound as the romantic comedy. Maybe even moreso. This Night of the Demons remake is no exception. There’s the big rules that have to be followed, like punishing the stupid: those who think having a Halloween party at the local scary house is a good idea. And there’s the smaller dynamics, like making sure the character peddling drugs doesn’t get out without paying, in blood.

There’s something more interesting going on here as well, though. Not so much a rule or convention as a tendency in horror: the more terrified the characters on screen are, the less scary the movie finally is. Go to the video shelf in your head, check me on this. Sure, there’s exceptions, usually of the blockbuster kind — Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby — but part of those exceptions’ success is that they’re breaking the rules. But, Paranormal Activity, or The Last Exorcism, or fifty more. Movies where what’s terrifying to us is that the characters aren’t seeing that shadow in that doorway in the background, that they don’t stand in the lawn long enough to see the curtains up there flutter.

All of which is to say that these characters in Night of the Demons, since they’re running from demons pretty much from the get-go, the scare factor’s cranked way down.

But please don’t take this to mean that this isn’t just excellent Halloween fare, either. Contrary to what non-horror fans suspect, we don’t always go to horror for the scare. More often than not, you hit that late screening because you’re in the mood for a funny music video with some over-the-top gore, and, if you’re lucky, some jump scares that keep you from ever slouching too far down into your seat. Feast, Slither? And as your horror palate gets more refined, you start seeing humor even in films like Harpoon: the Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, and by then it’s too late for you. Or, no: by then Night of the Demons is the perfect movie for you, as it’s everything you expect, what you paid at the box office for.

Steaming heaps of gore? Check. Nudity to try to balance that gore out? Check. Laughs? Check and check again. A paper thin backstory to ‘explain’ this horror into our world? Double-check. Early identification of our final girl? Got to have that. Shannon Elizabeth? Yep. Tentacle nipples? Goes without saying. And writer Jace Anderson and director Adam Gierasch are just completely having fun with this remake, too, keeping the same basic premise — Matheson’s Hell House, which was basically Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (etc.), each of which involve spending the night in that old creepy house out in the boonies — but updating it so that the first act feels like that party the Sorority Row remake opened with, remember? What’s particularly fun here are the sepiatoned silent-movie conventions they conjure in order to render the past. It’s very Buffalo 66, very light-hearted and effective. And there’s all the necessary Evil Dead nods, there’s the too-fast headshaking we know from Thirteen Ghosts, from Jacob’s Ladder, from Lost Highway. There’s the editing style early on, which, in case we’re missing all the other cues, is telling us over and over again to please not take this seriously, we’re just having some good gory fun here.

And, Night of the Demons is just that. Maybe finally not quite a good a time as last year’s Halloween rollercoaster DVD Trick ‘r Treat, but definitely horror time and money well spent. Where else this season, outside of Saw 3D, are you going to see this much blood, hear this many screams? But, in Saw, the gore’s going to be the lookaway-fast kind, the peek-at-through-your fingers kind, all wrapped up in a story so tangled you probably won’t even bother to try to work through it. In Night of the Demons, we revel in the gore because it’s all for laughs, and the story’s just simple survival fare, finally, nothing too taxing, relying, say, on bites or sex to pass this ‘demon virus,’ if we can believe that. And we can, just because this movie’s pure fun, and has no pretensions about itself. Perfect for Halloween.